Rec Center expansion puts swim clubs in chilly situation

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Coach Alex King, right, gives out workout directions to Med-City Aquatics swim club members during a practice Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, at the Soldiers Field Swimming Pool in Rochester.

Autumn Kappes has a name that spurs thoughts of crisp, cool afternoons when the wind has some bite and a sweater feels good. But at the moment, Kappes is a fan of endless summer — and she's not the only one who feels that way.

Kappes is CEO of the Rochester Swim Club Orcas, and Alexander King is the head coach of the Med City Aquatics Swim Team. Because of the ongoing renovations and expansion of the Rochester Recreation Center, their organizations have had to find alternate sites for their swimmers. Chief among those sites is the Soldiers Field Pool.

That's right — kids are swimming outdoors. In Minnesota. In mid-October.

"September was great, but it's been chilly this week," Kappes said last week. "The pool is heated, but it's chilly out there. The kids bundle up and take off their outer clothes right at the pool's edge and jump in."

Of the many individuals and organizations that have been affected by the Rec Center expansion, one could argue that the Orcas and Med City Aquatics have faced the biggest logistical challenges.


"We've been practicing at Willow Creek Middle School and Kellogg Middle School for our younger kids, and our older kids have been outside at Soldiers Field," King said. "As long as the weather is somewhat cooperative, we'll be outside."

Kappes said her organization has used nearly every pool in the area to keep its swimmers on track. "We moved our swimming lessons to hotels, and we are using the school pools, but while all of this happened, two of the three school pools that we could use went down," she said. "And the high school pools are being used by the girls high school teams right now. So we're fitting potentially 300 swim team kids and 200 swim school kids into hotels, four-lane small pools, all over town. Anywhere there's water, we're there."

Soon, probably the end of this week, the swim clubs will have to stop using the Soldiers Field pool, and they aren't scheduled to regain access to the Rec Center pool until Nov. 6. "In that gap, we'll cram into the middle schools, and then the high schools over the weekends," King said. "It'll be a tight squeeze, but we'll get in there."

Not everyone has been eager or even willing to swim outdoors in the fall. Some female club swimmers have opted to swim for their high school teams this fall rather than the Orcas, and Kappes said the Orcas' Masters program, which serves adult swimmers, has seen a decline in participation.

"We've lost some Masters because it's just too cold for them," she said. "We're down to just a dozen Masters swimmers right now, and if we were at the Rec Center, we'd probably have 25. Overall, we've had a lot of swimmers who normally start with us in the fall, but they chose to wait until the Rec Center opens. So, income-wise, this has really affected us."

For both organizations, however, these temporary challenges are a small price to pay for the bigger, better, 16-lane pool that awaits them when the Recreation Center renovations are complete.

"We'll be able to host bigger meets, and there's the possibility that both of the state meets could come to Rochester," Kappes said. "We've also been awarded the 2017 Zones Meet, a national meet, based on the Rec Center renovations. That will bring 800 swimmers and a lot of money to town, a lot of hotel rooms filled for a whole week, a lot of shopping and a lot of restaurant visits. To be having a national meet in Rochester is huge."

King agreed. "We can't wait," he said. "It's going to be a great facility. The kids are all pumped and we're really looking forward to getting back there."


But for now, he said outdoor swimming on chilly October afternoons has proven to have a silver lining for some of his swimmers.

"The kids are happy to get outside and get a tan, especially before Homecoming."

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Swimmers from the Orca and Med-City Aquatics swim clubs swim laps during practice Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, at the Soldiers Field Swimming Pool in Rochester.

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